CASE STUDY: VENEZUELA
SPF's military wing
by David Ramonet and Cynthia Rush
The nation of Venezuela is a flashpoint for a new "Chiapas" on the Ibero-American continent, in which the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200), founded by Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez Frías (ret.), will play the leading role. In fact, the MBR-200 is a case study for how the São Paulo Forum is retreading itself continentally. In the December 1993 Presidential elections, the Forum's affiliated Radical Cause (Causa R) party failed miserably in its efforts to defeat Rafael Caldera. While Causa R maintains a facade of promoting the electoral route, the MBR-200 is actively pursuing the path of armed revolt.
All the elements for Venezuela's destabilization are present: There is a direct British role in the attempt to overthrow President Caldera, using the still-intact political apparatus of deposed former President Carlos Andrés Pérez, as well as organized financial warfare executed through house organs of British economic policy, including the Wall Street Journal, the London Financial Times, and the London Economist. The latter publication insultingly refers to Caldera as a "cockroach."
An MBR-200 insurgency in Venezuela would not have the indigenist characteristics of Mexico's EZLN—there is no sizable Indian population of that sort in Venezuela. What makes Chávez's operation unique on the continent is, first, the involvement in his movement of military personnel, many of whom participated in the two coup attempts against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez (CAP) in 1992. Second, during Chávez's December 1994 visit to Cuba, President Fidel Castro received the MBR-200 leader with State honors, and personally anointed him as the "commander, not only of the Venezuelan Army, but of the continental revolution which is under way."
Chávez's organizational stronghold in Venezuela is the region bordering Colombia, where the drug-linked ELN guerrillas operate right across the border. Chávez recognizes both the ELN and the FARC as "belligerent parties," has reportedly met with their leaders, and demands that the Caldera government negotiate with them directly.
Exemplary of how the MBR-200 operates, was its support in February 1995 for a civic strike in Apure, the Venezuelan state bordering Colombia's Arauca department, and Chávez's stronghold. This is an area which the Caldera government has selected for a 4 billion bolivar economic and infrastructure development package, including the building of a new city, Ciudad Sucre. The strike, which took place in the municipality of Guasdualito, specifically opposed the building of Ciudad Sucre.
Guasdualito is a region into which the ELN had previously made numerous incursions, and two of its members successfully infiltrated the strike organizing committee, although they were later arrested by local authorities on Feb. 26. In a provocative move, Chávez announced that he would personally travel to Guasdualito to support the strike, "despite death threats I have received."
Perhaps as a reprisal for the arrests of the two Colombian guerrillas in Guasdualito, between 150 and 200 members of an ELN force attacked the Venezuelan Naval outpost of Cararabo, on the Meta River, and murdered eight Venezuelan sailors, decapitating some of them, and mutilating their corpses. Four others were wounded and several reported missing. Although Chávez formally condemned the massacre, his reported meetings with guerrilla leaders, and his presence in the region agitating against the government, immediately raised questions as to his role.
Chávez's MBR-200 also stands out for its open ties to London. In a March 29, 1995 press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Chávez bitterly complained that he had been planning to travel to London for a series of meetings, at the invitation of London's ambassador in Caracas, John Flynn, but that the Caldera government had intervened with the British government to sabotage his trip. The Caracas daily El Nacional also reported that Paul Webster Hare, the British embassy's counselor, had been seen dining with the "commander" at one of Caracas's ritzier restaurants.
Chávez is totally open about his plans to overthrow Caldera. On March 30, he warned that "anything could happen at any time. We are prepared to govern now, or whenever necessary. We're not planning a conspiracy, or anything like it, but faced with rebellion, we're prepared. I don't think Caldera will make it to the end of his term." For this reason, he is courted by leading members of Carlos Andrés Pérez's political machine, who want to see Caldera ousted and CAP's image restored, if not the man himself back in power.
Last May, Chávez traveled to Spain and France, sponsored by Gustavo Lamoine and Ignacio Quintana, the latter a financier friend of CAP who handled special accounts of government officials in Banco Latino, before it went bankrupt and was taken over by the State. According to journalist Rafael Poleo, Quintana had offered several bankers to help organize a broad-based coalition to overthrow Caldera, which would include Chávez and the MBR-200.